Bristling Dixie: Harvard-educated Mitt Romney faces a ‘southern disconnect’

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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When a yankee like Mitt Romney makes it down South, expect some mocking to take place.

“No self-respecting Southerner should vote for Romney after what he said on @100WAPI yesterday,” said Alabama radio host Matt Murphy in a tweet Friday.

Romney’s sin? In an interview with Birmingham radio host Leland Whaley on Thursday, the former Massachusetts governor admitted that after a long day of campaigning, “I try to eat some cold cereal at the end of the day.”

In an email to The Daily Caller, Murphy explained that in the South, “there’s no such thing as ‘cold cereal.’ It’s just cereal! ‘Hot cereal’ doesn’t exist. If you want ‘hot cereal’ in Alabama, you order oatmeal or grits.”

“While my tongue was planted in cheek,” Murphy said, “I think the comment speaks to the southern disconnect.”

The southern disconnect has been clear so far: the only southern state Romney has won has been Virginia, a state where neither Santorum nor Gingrich appeared on the ballot.

In the Alabama radio interview with Whaley, Romney admitted that campaigning in the south for him is “a bit of an away game.”

Alabama and Mississippi holds elections on Tuesday and Romney and both Santorum and Gingrich are fighting hard in those states to keep their candidacies alive.

While the Harvard-educated Romney doesn’t seem like a natural fit for southerners, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and former Alabama Gov. Bob Riley both endorsed him this week.

In Alabama, a poll released this weekshows former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum leading the GOP field with 23 percent support. Romney follows with 19 percent and former Speaker Newt Gingrich comes in at 14 percent.

Bradley Byrne, a Republican who ran for governor of Alabama in 2010, told TheDC that he expects Romney to make “a respectable showing” in Alabama but still expects his rivals to outperform him.

“My guess, and that’s really all it is, is that Santorum will run first,” Byrne said, adding that he predicts that, “Newt will start picking up, probably running second.”

Austin Barbour, a Mississippi native and national finance chairman for Romney’s campaign, told TheDC in an interview about the southern contests that, “We’re going to be way more organized than any of our opponents.” He said they are “a hungry underdog.”

Barbour argued that Romney hasn’t performed poorly in past southern contests.

“We won Florida, we won Virginia,” he said. “We came in second in Tennessee, second in Georgia, and heck man, second in Oklahoma. That was a big deal. That was a close second.”

“There’s no question he’s connecting with voters in the South,” Barbour said.

Andrea Hatcher, a professor of political science at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., said it “looks bad now for Romney to lose in Republican strongholds in the South. But, if he can make it to the general election, without the South, that may actually signal his strength.”

And regardless of how Romney performs in South during the primary, it’s unlikely that southerners wouldn’t ultimately back him in a general election, she said.

“The South will not let its antipathy for Mitt Romney get in the way of defeating President Obama,” Hatcher said.

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